By Earl Guen Quiñones Padayao | January 26, 2021
The nature of the court
The Philippine Justice System would not fall short of sophistication. It employs exalted legal rules and doctrines that would give even the most brilliant law students sleepless nights. However, there is one sui generis Philippine ‘court’ which does not require legal expertise. Sophisticated in its own right, it holds plenary power over all matters — almost without exception. That is the great Court of Public Opinion.
All Filipinos, usually sitting ‘en banc,’ compose the great court. The seat? Online, of course. It has two popular divisions: The first division is on Facebook, the second on Twitter. The former gives verdicts through “posts” and the latter by way of “tweets.”
Remedies in this court range from condemnation, to boycotts, to being “cancelledt,” and even to the point of being mass reported — resulting in the untimely demise of social media accounts. Without question, the power of this Court is something to shiver from.
Judge, jury, plaintiff, and respondent
By now, it is essential to note that in this Court, WE are all judge, jury, plaintiff, and respondent — at the same time; that poses a burden. As participants of a Court that involves the fundamental right to free expression, we should ask ourselves: How are we contributing? How are we enriching the Court of Public Opinion?
My answer is relatively simple: Participate by giving educated, smart, and reasonable opinions.
Yes, our participation matters — but that participation is infused with the social burden to broaden and deepen our online conversations to a point where verdicts of the Court tilt towards the right direction. We all have the potential to influence the scale of justice in the sala of public opinion.
To me, as an averagely reasonable netizen, I could say that the polarity of ideas among online participants does not only involve a difference in perspective but also contrast in depth and substance. In my many years on Facebook and Twitter, I have read all types of brilliant and absurd ideas. Some ideas that I would like to qualify as exemplary, some would qualify as pagkakalat. This should take us to a higher-more-elaborate level of caution — all the more because Filipinos are among the most “confidently ignorant” on issues — as opined by Ipsos MORI, a UK-based international research organization.
Learned individuals are burdened differently
The Court of Public Opinion, oddly enough, is seldom impressed by the rigor of argumentation. Logical, intelligently composed opinions, hold little sway than emotionally appealing, ad hominem, and fallacy ridden opinions.
This is the environment that invalidates learned individuals and tenured experts, yet worships the views of unqualified people. This is the same environment that emboldens those who know little to say more; the same environment that creates a culture of self-proclaimed expertise to the point of encouraging delusion of grandeur.
This is the challenge members of the learned community should face — and face valiantly at that. I am talking about doctors busting fake medical advice on online platforms. Lawyers busting unfounded “legal” advice on Facebook and Twitter. Social Science Professors busting false and distorted social theories. Historians busting conspiracy theories peddled by some random dude who watched a YouTube video. I am talking about philosophers bringing logic and reason in online conversations seemingly devoid of the same. Teachers and instructors bringing the mission of education online — on the Court of Public Opinion.
Boldly, I say: This is the clarion call for learned individuals to be more active and vocal on social issues at platforms where they matter. While we have to continue fighting with and for communities, in flesh and bone, we also have to realize that a bulk of our fight is online now. We must also go there. Face to face community projects, conversations with the oppressed or exploited, and empowerment advocacies must be ‘married’ with an active presence online.
Truly enough, all are burdened, but some people are burdened greatly — primarily because they have more to give. If I may conclude with a modification of what Spider-Man once said: If knowledge is power, then with great knowledge comes great responsibility.
About the author: Earl Guen Quiñones Padayao is the former COMELEC Chairperson and a forthcoming Justice of the Silliman University Student Government (SUSG). He started at the young age of 21, his Juris Doctor studies at Silliman University, and a philosophy teaching stint at Negros Oriental State University. He graduated college with Latin Honor, harboring a 97% Grade Point Average (GPA). He also studied environmental leadership at Northern Illinois University as an international exchange student. He is a recipient of multiple local and national awards. He is also a decorated youth leader and a reputable parliamentary debate adjudicator. He occupied various positions in socio-civic and academic organizations in both Visayas and Mindanao.